Forging Bonds at the Bookstore

From Publishers Weekly:

When I first got a job as a bookseller at Malvern Books, a small independent bookstore in Austin, Tex., I thought it would be roughly akin to working at a major chain: I’d stand behind the counter and ring people up, but without the discomfort of having to upsell memberships. It was through observing my gifted coworkers that I learned that bookselling is an art. At first, I wasn’t used to customers asking me for book recommendations and often felt like I was stumbling over my words. Once I started to think of myself as a sort of matchmaker, I began to have fun.

Malvern is unique in that we sell new books, mostly fiction and poetry, from small and independent presses exclusively. A good portion of the store is devoted to books in translation. When I first walked in, as a customer, I was astonished to see not just a few shelves labeled “poetry” but an entire wall. As a poet, I was in heaven.

When I became an employee, I’d often watch people do a quick loop around the store and leave, disappointed, I believed, because we don’t stock the latest bestsellers or books from the Big Five (or Big Four) publishers, and therefore they didn’t recognize our titles. But for customers who were open to suggestions, I had the joy of matching readers with authors they were not aware of.

Sometimes the handselling stakes were high. Once a frazzled looking young woman told me that she was about to spend two weeks “trapped” with her conservative family for the holidays. I knew just the ticket—an engrossing feminist book about a 1950s Hollywood starlet who’d lived a wild life and experienced an unfortunate fall from grace.

Another man announced that he’d just fallen in love and was looking for poems. He asked for two poetry book recommendations: one to celebrate his newfound amour and another to protect him from heartbreak if the relationship failed. “I’ve been hurt before,” he said. I handed him the perfect antidote (which he later told me worked like a charm)

The more I worked at the store, the more I began to notice that people yearn for connection beyond book recommendations. Even before the pandemic began, I’d answered phone calls that didn’t have much to do with the books at all. One elderly woman wanted help looking up something on the internet, which I happily obliged. Another gentleman wanted information about how to get out of a parking ticket. A fair number of callers want to know how to get their books published, in which case I’d refer them to an organization like the Writers’ League of Texas for a sense of community and support.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG was inclined to lay on the snark before he decided the author of the OP was probably a nice person who genuinely cared for the people who came into the store.

The article did depict at least some bookstore patrons as lonely people, however, not something that caused PG’s marketing juices to begin flowing.

3 thoughts on “Forging Bonds at the Bookstore”

  1. I never once asked a bookseller for their recommendation. One did suggest a book, but I had known her (once a week) for years. And she promised to let me bring it back if I didn’t like it.

    I’d have to be desperate and desperately time-challenged before I’d consider asking a stranger such a personal question. In fact, I’d rather reread from my stash than ask!

    • Maybe “The Lonely Lives of Booksellers” needs to be published as a companion volume to “The Lonely Lives of Bookstore Patrons”.

  2. And yet I could see at least three plot ideas in this OP alone. Probably won’t use them because too many other writers could feel similarly inspired. “Two men looked out from prison bars…etc”

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